Bench Press Alternatives

It happens to us all, you're halfway through your training session, the next exercise is bench press and as you walk over to the benches you are faced with what appears to be the latest round of the 'King of the Bench Contest'. Every inch of every bench is loaded, you've no chance of sliding under a bar this side of midnight, but you still have to train your upper body.

What can you do to ensure you still get a killer chest workout. It's time to get back to basics. Prepare to be amazed at how diverse the humble press up can be and discover why it should become the cornerstone of your upper body training. If an athlete working with me can't rep out with their bodyweight, they don't slide under the bar.

At this point you are probably thinking this is too basic. Well you are right, the press up is basic but you will be amazed at how many people with good benches can't rep out their own body weight. If you master the basic press up you will have laid the foundation from which all other work can begin.

For all of the exercises make sure you maintain good form, don't just bang the reps out, get a controlled tempo and aim for multiple sets of 10-20 reps.


Place your hands underneath your shoulders with your arms fully extended and your fingers facing forward. Bend your arms at your elbows, lowering your chest until it is two inches above the floor and your elbows reach 90 degrees. Keep your butt down, you want to maintain a normal body line throughout. Mix up your hand spacing to change to emphasis of the exercise (take your hands wide or bring them in close to get a bit more tricep involvement).


Take the basic press up but this time elevate your feet onto a step or box. Raising your feet above the head is going to increase the intensity of the basic press up.


If you are finding your bodyweight is too easy to handle crank the intensity up by slipping on a weight vest or simply getting a training partner to add some manual resistance. You can even get some bungee cord, run it from one had, over your back and down to the other hand - the beauty of this is you load at the end of the movement (the exercise gets harder at the end - something you can only achievie with some very fancy resistance machines).


If you want to get the maximum bang for your bucks and you've mastered the basic press up then now's the time to get a little bit unstable. Dig out some of the kit that's probably gathering dust in the corner of the gym (you know what I'm talking about - stability balls, stability discs, rocker boards, BOSU ball etc). Challenge your upper body strength and stability by placing your hands on say the BOSU ball and start to rep out. All of a sudden the press up has moved to another level.


Three ways to do an explosive press up. 1. Place one hand on a medicine ball and the other on the floor. At the bottom of the press up explode up and shift your weight while switching hands so that the opposite hands are on the floor and medicine ball. Aim to get some air during the switch. 2. Get two boxes or steps and place them around shoulder width. Start in a press up position on the floor, explode up and jump your hands up onto the boxes. Return to the starting position using the opposite action and repeat. 3. Clap press ups - start at the bottom position, explode up and you're your hand together before coming back to the start position. Get it wrong and your nose and the floor will become very intitmate!


Once you can handle all of the above with good form, take things to the next level and start to look at some combinations. Loaded / Unstable Incline / Loaded Incline / ExplosiveExplosive / Loaded